France has demanded an explanation. Germany compared it to the Cold War. The EU threatened to cancel its trade agreement. The Obama administration faces a new round of damage control after revelations from the Edward Snowden cache that the US spies on its European allies:
US intelligence services are spying on the European Union mission in New York and its embassy in Washington, according to the latest top secret US National Security Agency documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.
One document lists 38 embassies and missions, describing them as “targets”. It details an extraordinary range of spying methods used against each target, from bugs implanted in electronic communications gear to taps into cables to the collection of transmissions with specialised antennae.
Along with traditional ideological adversaries and sensitive Middle Eastern countries, the list of targets includes the EU missions and the French, Italian and Greek embassies, as well as a number of other American allies, including Japan, Mexico, South Korea, India and Turkey. The list in the September 2010 document does not mention the UK, Germany or other western European states.
One of the bugging methods mentioned is codenamed Dropmire, which, according to a 2007 document, is “implanted on the Cryptofax at the EU embassy, DC” – an apparent reference to a bug placed in a commercially available encrypted fax machine used at the mission. TheNSA documents note the machine is used to send cables back to foreign affairs ministries in European capitals.
The documents suggest the aim of the bugging exercise against the EU embassy in central Washington is to gather inside knowledge of policy disagreements on global issues and other rifts between member states.
The EU is especially incensed:
“Partners do not spy on each other,” said EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding. “We cannot negotiate over a big trans-Atlantic market if there is the slightest doubt that our partners are carrying out spying activities on the offices of our negotiators. The American authorities should eliminate any such doubt swiftly.”
European Parliament President Martin Schulz said he was “deeply worried and shocked about the allegations of U.S. authorities spying on EU offices.” And Luxembourg Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Jean Asselborn said he had no reason to doubt the Der Spiegel report and rejected the notion that security concerns trump the broad U.S. surveillance authorities.
“We have to re-establish immediately confidence on the highest level of the European Union and the United States,” Asselborn told The Associated Press.
Mr Kerry confirmed on Monday that EU High Representative Catherine Ashton had raised the issue with him in a meeting with him in Brunei, where they are both attending a security conference, but gave no further details of their exchange. He said he had yet to see details of the newspaper allegations.
“I will say that every country in the world that is engaged in international affairs and national security undertakes lots of activities to protect its national security and all kinds of information contributes to that. All I know is that is not unusual for lots of nations,” Mr Kerry told a news conference.
Just as a reminder, here’s a CBS News report from two and a half years ago, during the first Wikileaks eruption, that reminds us that Kerry’s right:
Back in 2001, European leaders accused the United States government of operating a vast industrial espionage network that was eavesdropping on European businesses and giving trade secrets to American companies.
According to the latest WikiLeaks cable release, they should have been looking internally.
France is the country that conducts the most industrial espionage on other European countries, even ahead of China and Russia, according to leaked U.S. diplomatic cables, reported in a translation by Agence France Presse of Norwegian daily Aftenposten’s reporting.
“French espionage is so widespread that the damages (it causes) the German economy are larger as a whole than those caused by China or Russia,” an undated note from the U.S. embassy in Berlin said.
Perhaps the key is not getting caught. At the very least, it’s important to make sure that disgruntled 29-year-old techies don’t get access to the data which proves the espionage takes place. All nations collect intelligence on as wide a selection of allies and enemies as possible — and everyone knows it. Once it gets out into the open, though, each government has to express its outrage so as to keep their own citizens from asking tough questions, such as how their nation wasn’t smart enough to encrypt their own fax machines rather than buy off-the-shelf encryption.
As for Snowden, this puts a different spin on his actions. Instead of being a freedom fighter against Big Brother, this looks more like animus against the US, and a revelation that serves no other real purpose than embarrassment. Did anyone believe before now that we didn’t collect intel on Europe, and that they don’t collect intel on us? If so, welcome to the post-industrial age.